(pool photo by Jill
The Pima County Superior Court jury that is charged with deciding if former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola will spend the rest of his life in prison or be executed by lethal injection was told, Thursday, about how Gaxiola and his siblings were raised by relations in California.
Last Friday, Gaxiola, 44, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter Brisenia, as well as six other charges. Earlier this year, Jason Eugene Bush and Shawna Forde were found guilty on the same charges in separate trials. They both ended up with death sentences imposed by the juries hearing the evidence of their crimes.
Sonia Muniz is an administrative assistant to the manager of the Pacific Southern Region for Kinder Morgan, which owns or operates more than 37,000 miles of pipelines and 180 terminals in North America.
The natural parents for Muniz are Sandra Sanchez Gaxiola and Richard Vera. “I always knew what my biological father’s name was but never had the opportunity to meet him,” she testified.
Then, a cousin pulled out a picture album of her mother’s wedding and asked if she would like to see a picture of her father. “That’s where they met. Both of them were in the picture,” Muniz testified. “I opened the white pages of the phone book and looked up Vera.”
A couple of phone call later she was in contact with her biological father “I had to sneak, but I made a visit to see him,” Muniz added.
Muniz normally refers to Tony and Sylvia Loera as her parents as they raised her and her brothers. Muniz broke down when asked about Sylvia Loera as she passed away two months ago. Her brother Kevin, who passed away from complications related to HIV/Aids, had lived with the Loeras since he was an infant.
The Loeras took in Muniz and Gaxiola when she was three and Gaxiola was two. Their mother’s boyfriend was physically abusive to their mother and to Gaxiola. After their mother’s boyfriend abandoned them they stay with their grandparents in Oregon.
Their mother ended up in the hospital and their grandmother was ready to raised Muniz and Gaxiola, but their grandfather said no. That’s when they were taken in by the Loeras and moved to southern California. Eventually, their grandparents were divorced.
The high life
Two weeks after graduation from high school, Muniz was employed as a receptionist for a beauty supply house. After a year in that job Muniz took her one-week paid vacation and traveled to Arivaca to visit her biological mother and grandfather. “It was a party environment. It was an environment I hadn’t been introduced to,” she testified.
Muniz said the first thing that caught her eye was money. “I had been working at Fresno Beauty supply for minimum wage,” she admitted. “I was introduced to drugs at that time and I met my first daughter’s father out here.”
Her biological mother supplied her with cocaine and marijuana. “She was selling drugs,” Muniz testified.
Muniz admitted she started thinking about her ho-hum life back in Fresno as compared to Arizona. “It seemed like it was a lot easier than going to work every day,” she admitted.
Her mother offered her a place to live so Muniz gave her notice at her job in Fresno and moved to Arizona. “It was a different lifestyle. The attraction was, for one, a man. For two, there was money,” she said.
Muniz said her drug of choice was white powder. “I’ll be honest, cocaine is a rough drug,” she said. “You can easily start to enjoy it.”
During cross-examination, Muniz was asked about the involvement of her biological mother in the case, which sent Gaxiola to prison a few years ago. “When he did go to prison Sandra was involved in that case as well. Was she not?” asked Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson. “I believe she was,” Muniz answered.
After the jury had left, defense counsel Steven D. West complained to Judge John S. Leonardo than Johnson had her facts wrong. West said the Sandra Sanchez involved in the case that sent Gaxiola rto prison was his cousin not his mother.
West suggested that Johnson’s question had been prejudicial. Johnson replied that it couldn’t have been prejudicial since the defense was painting a picture of Gaxiola’s mother that was less than positive. Johnson also pointed out that Muniz had answered the question and West had failed to correct the error on redirect examination.